Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A Car-Free Island in Time

We had a windy time of it getting here, but we're now at Mackinac Island, a few miles east of the Mackinac Bridge, longest in the Western Hemisphere. We had a 62-mile ride going NNE along the Lk. Michigan shore, facing a 15-25 mph NW wind. Fortunately a lot of the small roads we took had trees and/or bluffs to the west of the road, giving us some shelter, but it was a HARD day. The wind provided some dramatic waves in Charlevoix, our destination, as the photo shows. The town looks like it was the model for Lionel's little plastic town parts, quaint houses, Victorian store fronts and all. A local architect built a number of stone houses that folks come to see (from the outside -- they're all private homes), and we had a nice walk past quite a few of them. The one pictured here is probably the cutest one we saw, and is known locally as "The Mushroom House" for its shape.

Our next day was short and easy and almost all on a bike trail through Petoskey, which has an even larger, quainter business district, one that has survived the building of a Walmart on the outskirts of town. Third and last day northward to Mackinac was on a road called the "Tunnel of Trees," and that it was. It was a fairly narrow road for a state highway, with trees growing right up to the shoulderless asphalt, but the traffic was almost non-existent except for motorcycle clubs out for their Sunday rides, and bicyclists. Lunch was at Legs Inn, founded a century ago by a Polish immigrant who liked the area and the people of the Ottowa tribe nearby. We had a great Polish lunch with sausage on rye bread, stuffed cabbage, pierogies and dumplings. Polish students work in the summer, augmenting the locals who keep it running through the winter. We could see four lighthouses from our table on the veranda, one reportedly in bad shape as it was used for target practice by Army bombers training for combat in WW II.

Mackinac Island has been a dream destination for us for decades. NO CARS!!! Just bikers, hikers, and LOTS of horses -- about 600 in summer. At night from our B&B we hear hoof beats instead of car engines. It's not any quieter, but it's a lot more conducive to sleep. You also don't get diesel smoke in your face during the day as vehicles pass you, but you do get some pretty strong "biofuel" aromas from the horses, particularly in the downtown area where they stand, waiting for customers to haul.

The island has a state highway all along the shore, exactly 8 miles long and totally level. For 6 of those miles it looks exactly like a bike trail with a yellow stripe down the middle. It's a little wider, not by much, near town, but there it shares use with horse-drawn wagons, horse-drawn delivery trucks, horse-drawn garbage haulers (they put your trash container on a flat-bed wagon and empty it elsewhere, then return the empty), and LOTS of walkers and cyclists. As you cross the street, you also have to watch for more than the traffic because the roadway has, uh, 'texture.'

The town clusters around ferry docks for three boat lines that charge identical fares and have virtually identical schedules, all running boats every 30 minutes from 7 am 'til early evening. One street is fudge shop, restaurant, fudge shop, gift shop, fudge shop, old wood hotel, restaurant, fudge shop, book store, fudge shop . . . for about four blocks. Did we mention the Island is famous for fudge? We got a free sample in one from a student from Poland, who was very surprised to hear about Legs Inn, and positively salivating when we described our lunch there. Besides Poles, we've encountered quite a number of Jamaicans working summer jobs here and elsewhere in this part of Michigan, and were told there are also quite a few Filipinos and Chileans in the summer work force. Wonder how the Michigan congressional delegation voted on immigration reform this past year . . . This community would come to a grinding halt without 'guest workers,' it's pretty clear.

The island has a LOT of hotels and B&Bs, none more famous than the Grand Hotel, which was used with other island landmarks in the film "Somewhere In Time." There are many reminders on the island about the movie. The hotel is enormous, as the "world's largest summer hotel" darned well ought to be, and a walk down the "world's largest front porch" takes a while, as you can see!

We've also enjoyed hiking around the island looking at the many stunning summer "cottages" built by wealthy Midwesterners in the 19th century, competing in size and architectural quaintness and almost all set off by colorful gardens. There is also a genuine fort on the island that was successfully attacked once with no loss of life. The commander learned of the declaration of the War of 1812 from his British opponent with a much larger force, and chose not to commit himself and his fort to martydom. Smart move, as the diplomats awarded Michigan, and thus the fort, back to the Americans 2 years later.

The weather has been dry except for light rain one morning a week ago. The wind has been strong while we've been on the island, and from the direction we're headed tomorrow. It's supposed to get lighter in speed, but not change direction. Could be another tough 65-miler when we leave. Temperature has been Fall-like, given the wind plus high temperatures only around 70. It could be worse. It gets cold enough here that in some winters (2 out of the past 4, from someone who's spent 4 winters here) Lake Huron freezes from St. Ignace, five miles away, all the way out to Mackinac Island, and locals mark an "ice bridge" with discarded Christmas trees that people drive across by snowmobile. In the "old days," in fact, it was how the island was resupplied in winter.

For those of you trying to keep track of our route, we'll see if we can put up a map next time be blog on. Having come up the west side of Michigan's lower peninsula and jumped to this island between the upper and lower peninsulas, we're now about to ride down the east side of the state, along Lake Huron. In one week we'll enter Ontario from Marine City MI, along the St. Clair River that separates Michigan from Ontario, US from Canada. We expect to see a lot more lakeshore, the world's largest open-pit limestone mine, and a town with a German heritage that appears to be something like Leavenworth WA, except that it really IS German. But also, now, perhaps a bit hokey. We'll let you all know.

We've gotten a few Comments via this blog site from folks we've met along the way and told about our blog. Keep the comments coming! We enjoy hearing that folks are reading about our trip.

Cheers, Louise and Jeff

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Le Grand Tour Begins

After a 3-week trip to Japan for Matt's wedding, we're now on the road on our tandem, bound for Ithaca NY.

We had a surprisingly unfrantic 26 hours in Seattle, given all that had to be done and was done. But Steve and Janet Sisson helped us recover from jet lag with a good sleep at their place, and we got our wedding post online and handled all the other Seattle-centric tasks that had to be done with no sense of hurry. Janet gave us a lift to Amtrak via the FedEx store, where our suitcases and backpacks from the Japan trip got sent on to Ithaca, and off we were.

Although the tandem has couplings and can be fit into two suitcases, we used the standard Amtrak method of taking two single-bike cardboard boxes telescoped together to pack our bike, with only a few parts removed to make it fit. Fortunately, we had all those removed parts where we could find them when we hit Milwaukee, so 45 minutes after we stepped off the train, we were biking the half-mile from the station to the lake shore, where we had the first of many lighthouse sightings of this trip. Having spent much of our lives on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, we never realized how many lighthouses are inland on the Great Lakes. One week into the trip and we've seen almost a dozen.

The first three days were north along the Wisconsin side of Lake Michigan. We had a 25-miler through the north half of Milwaukee and into the suburbs right after getting the bike reassembled, but it was an easy urban 25 since the nice folks in city govt. had sent us a Milwaukee bike map that showed us bike trails (about half the distance) and quiet streets (almost all the rest) to Cedarburg. As we came into town a lycra-clad fellow on a ride squeezed between work and dinner showed us to the door of the Washington House Inn, a charming 120-year-old hostelry in a beautifully cared-for town that grew up around mills on the Cedar River in the 1850s. Walking through town that evening was like being transported to another, more gracious age.

Day 2 was rainy for the first half of the ride, but the Interurban Bike Trail more than compensated by providing a pleasant route through two more towns and a lot of countryside. It mostly followed an old interurban (long-distance trolley) line, and wherever the right of way could not be used, it took us with clear markings to wide, low-trafficked streets 'til we were back on the original route. Our third and final day in Wisconsin was on a road recommended on the state bicycle map, and it did not disappoint -- it was mostly level with only gentle rollers from time to time, with a decent shoulder for the 4 or 5 times an hour a car passed us. On top of this, it came out to the lake shore mid-way to Manitowoc, our destination, and gave us good views up and down the Lake Michigan shore. As we left Wisconsin on the S.S. Badger for a 4-hour ferry ride across the lake, we decided that eastern Wisconsin was both as beautiful and bike-friendly as western Wisconsin was when we toured a few hundred miles of it 5 years ago.

The ferry goes from Manitowoc WI to Ludington MI, and 1 1/2 hours from the former, all you can see from the boat is a sharp line between water and sky for 360 degrees around the boat, except for what looks like a soft pencil line above the horizon in a small area to the west. 15 minutes later and that is gone as well. In short, Lake Michigan is so wide that the curvature of the earth keeps you from seeing either shore when you are in the center, at least at the minimal height above the water, maybe 25', of our top deck. BTW, the Badger had a sign we decided to adopt, at least for our blog. Thought they might object if we took it down from the wall next to the cabins on the boat, but it expresses our thoughts poignantly.

The Michigan side of the lake, which we have now ridden for several days northward, is quite a bit different than the Wisconsin side, which is most farmland and gentle topography. Here, prevailing westerly winds have created sand dunes and a more irregular coastline, and a lot of the land is covered in forest, predominantly birch, ash, beech and scrub pine. The forest understory is usually low to the ground, so you can see quite a ways in to these forests, though no wildlife has yet come into view. Many of the roads we've found have been narrow and low-trafficked, and riding down them is sometimes like taking a hike in the woods, on wheels.

One day we stopped at a crossroads to check our map and a woman cycling by stopped to be sure we knew which way to go, then took off. By the time we got going, she was a few blocks' distance in front of us. With great effort, we caught up with her a few miles later, only to fall behind when she cranked it up over 20 mph. We saw her later in the next town, and she admitted to being named Cathy and being 57 years old. She was training for a century (100-miles in 1 day) ride, and it's clear she's going to do just fine.

We've stayed at three very nice B&Bs in Michigan so far, but one deserves special mention, Bear Lake Manor in the very small town of Bear Lake. It was built a little over a century ago for a physician and it is a beautiful building with a large, friendly living room just off the entry and a porch that wraps around two sides of the building, where we had breakfast. The night before, we walked down to Bear Lake itself, and watched the sun set on this 3-mile-wide circular lake, apparently a "kettle lake" formed by the receding glaciers. The hosts were gracious, the dinner in town was delicious, the evening relaxing, the setting beautiful. What more can you ask for?

The last four nights have been spent overnight in two locations, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and Traverse City. A friend Louise made 15 years ago, June Thaden, lives in the latter and came to the former to treat us to some great hikes in the National Lakeshore. We spent Monday exploring the sand dunes, some as much as 460 feet (46 stories, for you city-dwellers!) above Lake Michigan. With the assistance of June's car, we accessed some great trails and had fun catching up with each others' doings. June was president for 3 years in the mid-90's of the League of American Bicyclists, the largest bicycle organization in the U.S., and is a wealth of knowledge about biking, bike touring and bicycle advocacy. She's not a one-sport person, either, and is leaving Saturday for two weeks of backpacking the Appalachian Trail in central Maine. She is one active 75-year-old! As you can see, she's also a tree-hugger. Hopefully we'll stay at least partly as active as June.

June also put us up at her home in Traverse City, the heart of the cherry region. This area grows one-third of the world's cherries! We went to a store that sells only items with cherries or made with cherry wood. Cherry salsa? Got it. Cherry mustard? Got it. On our "rest day" here in Traverse City we took a 40-mile ride up the Mission peninsula, 35 miles of it along the shore of Lake Michigan and 5 miles down the center of the peninsula where cherry orchards stretched along all the roads and off into the distance.

Tomorrow we're off on a 3-day jaunt up to Mackinac (pronounced mack - in - awe) Island, where the state highway circling the island has an enviable record. It's never had an automobile accident. Because automobiles have been banned from the island since state highways were "invented." We're spending three nights there to force ourselves to have a true rest day or two, and hopefully we'll find computer access to tell you more about Mackinaw Island and the route there through the famous "Tunnel of Trees."

Sunday, August 5, 2007

A Wedding in Japan

We are happy to report that Jeff's son Matt and Akiko Yuasa were married in a delightful ceremony on August 4.

The wedding festivities proper began two days earlier with an elaborate dinner at a Chinese restaurant for the two families. On the left are Akiko's uncle in the foreground and dad in the back left, both doctors in Tokyo, with Akiko's mom and her sister Etsuyo in between. Etsuyo is a professor at Ohio State, and Akiko's parents and uncle spent 2 years in Boston in the 1970s, so this is a very international family! Also sitting there are Team Red Tandem, Matt and Akiko, and Matt's mom and sister Becky.

The wedding day was a typical Tokyo day for August - about 90 F and 99% humidity. Fortunately, it was almost all indoors, in the so-called Guest House of the Akasaka Prince Hotel. The guest house appears to have been just that at one time, perhaps for one of Japan's noble families in the 19th century (it's only a few blocks from the Imperial Palace). Except that the Guest House now has the 40-story Akasaka Prince Hotel in its backyard, connected to it by indoor passageways.

Akiko wore a western-style wedding dress, and was positively glowing.
The guest house is in an English Tudor style, and the wedding was in a beautiful room with wooden beams showing on the ceiling. Akiko's dad walked her up the aisle and handed her off to Matt, and the minister did the entire ceremony in both Japanese and English, alternating, except for the two hymns, # 312 and # 430, which were in Japanese (perhaps you know them, "Itsu ku shimi fu kaki" and "Imo se o chi giru, ie no uchi"?), and the wedding vows themselves, which were in English. Once you've said "I do" in one language, it sort of sounds like you didn't fully mean it if you have to say it again, even if it is in another language. After the vows, exchange of rings and first kiss, the bride and groom turned to the audience and, with good Japanese etiquette, bowed to their guests (the photo here was them practicing it a few minutes before the ceremony).

After the wedding, Matt and Akiko were ushered outside briefly (in that heat and humidity, you can believe it was kept brief), for the guests to shower them not with rice, like goofy Americans sometimes do, but with flower petals. Because Aki's dress had a long train, a small, quiet woman in a kimono followed her almost everywhere, helping lift the train off the ground whenever Akiko had to change locations. We never heard her voice, but saw many, many smiles from her.

The reception was in a larger room upstairs in the Guest House. The building also houses "Le Trianon," a very elegant French restaurant, and the meal was memorable, the mood set by the first course, "Medaillon de Homard et Coquille St.-Jacques Marinee, Tartare de Saumon Fume au Caviar." Matt's "host father" from his homestay a decade ago in Kobe was there with his family, and gave the opening toast, and various friends and family members of Akiko and Matt stood up at different times to say a few words.

Matt and Akiko had put together a video of photos of them as children at various ages, up through recent photos of the two of them. It was fun to watch them grow up so quickly. Then came the surprise of the evening. Unknown to all but a few co-conspirators, Matt had made a second video, in which he traveled to special places around Tokyo and asked Akiko if she remembered this particular club or that particular park bench. In one memorable scene, Matt stopped to eat a special Japanese dish that Aki likes but that Matt had always declined to eat, or even be within ten feet of -- natto. Natto is made from fermented soy beans, and the words non-connoisseurs usually use to describe it are "nasty," "foul-smelling," and "slimy." (It's an acquired taste, they say, like haggis or luttefisk or American hot dogs). Anyway, the look of less-than-pure-satisfaction on Matt's face, especially as some of the natto dripped from his mouth like uncooked eggs, brought tears of laughter to the guests.

Ah, but the drama continued. As Matt continued to address Akiko electronically, and as Akiko nervously watched from the dais, Matt sat down in the video and wrote her a letter, addressed it "Urgent - deliver by August 4th," and we watched him drop it in the mailbox. Just then, the video said "You've Got Mail" and a knock was heard on the door to the reception room. One of Matt's friends had slipped out of the reception and come back dressed as a Japanese Postman, and he trotted up to the dais and left the letter to howls of laughs. Matt then read the letter, and there wasn't a dry eye in the room as he told Akiko how happy and proud he was to be marrying her, and would always be.

After the wedding cake was cut by the couple and handed out to the crowd, the emcee announced in Japanese and English that the bride would have one last dance with her father, to Jerome Kern's "Just the Way You Look Tonight," followed by Matt cutting in, and a few other couples joining in the dancing. Incidentally, the astute among you may have noticed that Akiko's hair style is different in the last two pictures. Midway through the reception she left to change it, and some brides actually change their entire outfit, perhaps from a western white wedding dress to a traditional wedding kimono, to symbolize that the husband does not take her "Just the Way You Look Tonight," but in many different ways during the marriage.

Lastly, the two fathers, Dr. Yuasa and Jeff, went to the reception room door and stood beside Matt and Akiko, and each gave a parting thank you to the guests, followed by a bow to the guests by the fathers and the new couple.

Thank you for sharing in our family wedding. It was a tremendous experience, and we look forward to many happy memories with Matt and Akiko.

Thank you also to our friends the Sissons for making their computer available. We're presently in Seattle for all of 26 hours, leaving tomorrow for Milwaukee by Amtrak, followed by a 1300-mile tandem ride through Wisconsin, Michigan, Ontario and New York to Ithaca NY, where we will spend the Fall. Please check our website soon for news of the bicycling part of our adventure.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Japan Part 2

We start this blog with a very special announcement: the birth on July 25 of Issei Hudson Kim, our second grandchild, to Lisa and Ray. “Beam,” as he has been officially nicknamed, was more of a steel beam than a moonbeam, at 8 pounds 10 ounces. We expect to say much more about Beam and his delightful sister Hanachan when we arrive in Ithaca in September, and begin a four month stay there to help out with the babysitting and to join many other members of the family in getting to know Cornell. For now, all we have is photos and reports that all are doing well.

The rest of this blog will discuss our 7-day trip via Japan Rail. We had so many extraordinary experiences, we cannot really mention more than a few. Here goes:

The key words for the first two days were “engineering” and “war.” First, the Shinkansen (“new trunk line”), or “Bullet Train” to most non-Japanese. It is extremely fast, and got us from Tokyo to Hiroshima in 9 hours, including a 4-hour stopover in Himeji. It is an entirely new train line built sometimes next to the existing main line down the southeast coastline of Honshu, sometimes as much as a few kilometers away. There is not a grade crossing on the whole line, unlike the rest of Japan, which must have more grade crossings than the rest of the world. It is one of the engineering wonders of the world.

Himeji, our stopover, is another engineering and architectural wonder, but one built in the service of war. Or, more precisely, in defense. The guidebook and signs there were unclear, but it appears it was never seriously attacked, and no wonder. It is an imposing and fearsome castle, considered the finest surviving one in Japan in original condition. Osaka Castle was destroyed with 17th century methods in the early 1600s, and most of the rest were damaged or destroyed by WW II.
And what a wonder Himeji Castle is. It is as impressive as anything the Europeans, or Walt Disney for that matter, ever devised. It was particularly interesting to note how many nasty methods of war that European castles used were independently devised in Japan as well, like little trap doors that you could drop rocks out of, and places to pour boiling water or oil down on unwanted guests. It was also interesting to see how much of the medieval GNP must have been needed to keep a place like this in readiness, for castles don’t protect terribly well unless you have a good number of folks up top with a good supply of rocks, or boiling water, or bows and arrows. We’d also like to know if it was truly the strong physical defenses of Himeji that kept it from attack, or better diplomacy than the folks in Osaka practiced prior to the sacking of their castle.

The end of day one and most of day 2 were in Hiroshima, where engineering and war joined in a ghastly alliance. The city is most interesting, one that will never let what happened on August 6, 1945 be forgotten, but one that is also

determined to not let that awful event keep it from being a great city. It is now a city of over a million, three times its size in the 1940s, and perhaps the most attractive large city we saw. It is built on several islands in the delta of a large river, so has numerous bridges and many walks along the rivers. Out of the near-total destruction of its downtown, it created 100-meter-wide Peace Boulevard and a park at the tip of one of the deltas called Peace Park, near ground zero (or the hypocenter, as it is referred to here).

We both read John Hersey’s moving book Hiroshima, written originally in 1946 and rewritten in 1985 to trace what became of its main characters, real people Hersey got to know who survived, some not well, what happened.

All war is inherently ugly, but there are not monuments to other horrific events like the firebombing of Tokyo or of Dresden, perhaps because there is a particular amazement at the power of this one single bomb, and a recognition that it poses such dangers for the world. The scientists very accurately anticipated the bomb’s concussive power, and it was awesome, destroying almost every structure within a km or two, and almost every wooden structure (meaning virtually every home there in 1945) within 4 or 5 km. The thermal power of the bomb was also well anticipated by its designers, and the Peace Museum has exhibits such as glass bottles fused together in a pharmacy a km away. Together, these knocked down thousands of buildings and started fires that consumed what wasn’t already destroyed, so that the city was largely leveled in a circle about 2.5 mi. in radius from the hypocenter.

The best estimate is that 70,000 or so died in the first 24 hours. What the scientists had not fully anticipated was the radioactive effect of the bomb. Perhaps half of those first casualties died hours after the bomb when their bodies were overwhelmed by the invisible damage done by the radiation. Another 50,000 or so died 1 to 3 months later, often after their hair first came out in clumps, again as the delayed reaction to unseen damage done by the radiation. Many fetuses who were born in the months after the bomb had deformities, including microcephaly. Youngsters who seemed to have survived and done well for a decade then started having a high rate of cancer, particularly leukemia, such as Sadako, a girl whose unsuccessful attempt to fold 1000 origami cranes to bring good luck in her fight with leukemia was widely publicized. Even today, health issues for the Hibakusha, as A-bomb survivors are known, are the subject of court cases as they fight the government for health coverage (one such case was decided by the Japanese Supreme Court a few days ago, in favor of the Hibakusha).

We had a moving visit to the Peace Museum, but also a nice walk along some of the rivers and some nice meals, and we picked up tourist information about other things to do in the area, and may well return some day to do things that do not bring tears to the eyes.

Our next two days were in Kyoto, the second-most visited city in Japan after Tokyo. It was the capital of Japan for over a thousand years, as well as a major religious center and, until very recently, the center of education as well. What most tourists focus on is the shrines and temples, and on day one we walked 15 miles seeing a ton of them. They are impressive, beautiful, incredibly old. The highlight of the day however was something called “The Philosopher’s Walk,” near the Silver Pavilion. This was a walk along an old, narrow irrigation canal under a canopy of trees, with a forest on one side and homes and tea shops on the side we walked along.

Having been templed-and-shrined out, we sought out something different for day two and found it. We took the train 25 km out of town and walked down to the Hozu River, where we boarded a narrow, flat-bottomed boat with another two dozen folks, none of them foreign tourists like us. The boat was pushed off and started down the swift-flowing river, aided by one fellow pushing us with a long bamboo pole, a second fellow with an oar he used both hands to pull, and a third in the back manning the tiller. Half-way down they switched positions, with the youngest one missing out on the easy tiller job because he is still learning the river. We went through numerous rapids, none overly scary but one rough enough to put a few buckets worth of river water in our boat. The river twisted and turned beneath towering green hills peppered with rock cliffs, and from time to time we would see a train running alongside the river and fifty to a hundred feet up, a locomotive and four open cars painted bright red, called the Romantic Train. Just before the end of our 1 ½ hour trip, a boat similar to ours but with an outboard motor pulled up alongside, latched onto our boat, and offered beer, sake, grilled squid and a treat that Jeff went for, grilled balls of omochi (a very chewy ball of pounded rice cake)on a stick, dipped in a mixture of soy sauce, sugar and corn starch. No redeeming nutritional qualities, but oh, so tasty!

The next day involved an hour’s train ride down to Nara, the capital before Kyoto began its millennial reign. The world’s largest Buddha is there, inside the world’s largest wooden building, as part of the Todaiji temple. He was consecrated in 752, but like so many of us, has needed orthopedic and plastic surgery from time to time, in his case due to fires and earthquakes. His hands and head are noticeably different in color as a result. Perhaps more interesting than Todaiji were the many smaller and less commercialized temples and shrines we walked past in the hills to the east and south, including one that had double rows of stone lanterns alongside the two stone staircases leading to it, back-to-back for a distance of maybe a quarter mile in each direction. We wondered if they ever have a festival when they light all the lanterns. We’d love to have the candle concession for that!

The last part of our trip was a magical walk down the Nakasendo, one of the two ancient “roads” that connect Kyoto and Tokyo. We spent the night in a high-rise hotel in downtown Nagoya and took a morning train to the small city of Nakatsugawa, on the Kiso River. From there we caught a bus to tiny Magome. This town and Tsumago, our destination, were bypassed by the railroad down the Kiso valley in the 19th century and by the highway builders in the 20th, and in the 1960’s began to realize their historical value. The tourists have followed, for good reason – this was old Japan at its finest. The Nakasendo climbs steeply through Magome past dozens of shops preserving 18th and 19th century buildings by selling 21st century doodads and food. It then leaves town and at times you are on the ancient stone path itself, at times on dirt or gravel pathways, at times on small roads that look more like driveways, they are so narrow. We hiked from 1600’ in Magome up to Magome Pass at 2500’ and enjoyed a snack at a teahouse right at the summit, next to the minor highway that shares the pass with the hiking route. On the way down the other side we passed one house with two pools of water with stream water flowing through, one with cucumbers floating in it, the other with fresh tomatoes, and a cutting board nearby holding a sharp knife and a jar of miso. A sign invited passersby to have a snack at 30 yen per cucumber (about 25 cents), 30 yen for a medium sized tomato, or three cherry tomatoes for 10 yen. We had a tasty cucumber-miso-tomato snack, of course.

Tsumago is even older-looking than Magome, an amazing trip back to the Edo period before the modernizing of Japan that began with the Meiji Restoration of 1868. We had a reservation at a ryokan that was marvelous, and the price included not only a spacious room with futon and the sound of a rushing river nearby, but also dinner and breakfast. They even served us something Louise had never encountered in her 25 years in Japan, roasted grasshoppers (crunchy, and very tasty with the marinade they had been dipped in) and a first for Jeff, horse-meat sashimi. Louise let Jeff think it was beef until later, although Jeff is so game about trying new food that he probably would have tried it regardless.

We are now back in Tokyo, having walked another section of Nakasendo from Tsumago down to the train line the next morning, then returned with a short visit en route to Karuizawa, a town in the Japanese Alps that Louise often visited during her years in Japan. We rented bikes, three-speed fat-tired clunkers with front baskets that nonetheless allowed us to see a lot of town in our few hours there. Louise was saddened to see how much it has become like Tokyo, now that the Shinkansen has reduced the trip from a few hours to a 70-minute hop, albeit an expensive one.

Two more days until the wedding, so our next post will be about that.